"When these problems vex you or disturb you or upset your lives, please bear with us. We're trying our best on your behalf. And if we didn't quite get it right, I am sorry but we will try and do better the next time," - PM Lee, Straits Times 4 May 2011[Link].
This is perhaps the best thing he can say at this point in time. I don't doubt his sincerity. Whether he is awoken to what has happened in the last 5 years because of the massive support seen at opposition rallies or something else, he sounded like he will really "try to do better next time". This came very late after his ministers, Mah Bow Tan, in particular spent a lot of time denying problems exsist- until last week Mah was still explaining to us why HDB flats are affordable. Throughout the last 5 years, PAP MPs and ministers have called Singaporeans fussy or implied that we are too demanding. All this time life was getting more competitive, stressful and difficult....and the frustration drove many to look for a way out in the form political alternatives.
The PM tells us he understands our pain and is ready to do better for us after the elections. Lets suppose we all believe him and vote for the PAP on 7 May 2011 and the opposition loses all GRCs. What do you think is going to happen? The parliament will be filled by 'yes-man' and 'yes-women' who subscribe to the PAP ideology and agree with the general policy framework. The PAP improves the transport system by urging the SMRT to in frequency of trains and Minister Mah increase the number of flats and cools the housing market further. That still leaves out many major issues that require major reform and remaking that will never take place if the PAP still dominates parliament.
The CPF is badly in need of reform. It is suppose to fund our retirement not our homes. Allowing CPF to be used for housing caused a large rise in resale prices as part of Goh Chok Tong's asset enhancement programme. Now we understand how all this money eventually flow into our reserves through land sales. A large part of our gigantic reserves managed by the GIC came from our CPF retirement accounts through the sale of land at high prices to home buyers. Furthermore, the remaining sum in CPF is lent out to GIC to earn a very low fixed return - the return on CPFrelative to inflation is the lowest among all major retirement funds include Malaysia's EPF[Link].Recently, when PM Lee was asked about the problem of retirement faced by Singaporeans, he said that solution is to sell their home. So the whole idea is to work Singaporeans hard to pay off an expensive property that they will have to sell to fund their retirement and leave nothing for their children when they go. This si something no 1st world country would plan for their people. A more balanced approach is for Singaporeans to fund their retiremnt to a certain age and the rest funded by progressive taxation of income. Insisting that everyone fund their own retirement when we have the highest income gap in the world and no minimum wage results in a large segment of the population working their entire lives but never able to retire.
In healthcare, Minister Khaw's approach has been to just pass the rising costs to Singaporeans. Hospitalisation cost has been rising a double digit rate in the past few years They implemented means testing that will squeeze the middle income when they become ill. The reason why the PAP does this is to keep its expenditure on healthcare down at roughly 3% of the GDP. This is the lowest among developed countries that typically have govt health expenditure of 13-15% of their GDP. Sick Singaporeans shoulder the biggest burden as a % of total expediture among developed countries. Contrast that with universal heathcare system in Taiwan, France and Australia where universal healthcare ensure that people have no worries when they become sick and the expediture for the system is financed by progressive payments that depend on income level so that the burden is light on the poorer segments of the population. In Singapore, the govt even insists that Workfare receipients and the poor contribute to Medisave so that they shoulder as much of the burden as possible when they become sick - this amplify the effects of the income gap. Hard choices have to be made such as reallocation from othe parts of our budget, putting everyone on a universal scheme and reforming the way it is paid for so that the financial burden is taken away from those that are sick and poor. .
We have to review our FT policy that opens the floodgate to foreigners. Our infrastructure is strained and a large segment of our population suffer because their wages are depressed. This large influx has also caused a structural unemployment because employers are reluctant to hire older Singaporeans because there is a large pool younger foreign workers.
We need major restructuring of the economy to rely less on cheap foreign labor so that higher income jobs can be created for Singaporeans. We need changes in the way we take care of the poor and elderly - to build an new social infrastructure replacing the current piecemeal approach to helping them. We need to level the playing field in our education system, in particular, ensuring that poor children have quality pre-school so that they start at an equal footing. We need to give more aid to poor families and single parent families so that the children in this families can have a more equal start. We need changes in our political system - move away from GRCs and linking votes to upgrading - so that all Singaporeans can vote without fear for the person they feel can best represent them in parliament.
The changes we need are not small and cosmetic. Our income gap is the biggest in the developed world. We have a 3rd world wage structure. If we carry on along the same direction, poverty will keep growing even as our GDP grows. For the declining quality of life to reverse and head upwards, there is a lot of work ahead to change the system we are in. Tan Jee Say used that phrase very often during the election campaign describing the PAP as a govt that "has lost its way". When Tan Jee Say was in the civil service, we were promised a Swiss Standard of living. We have strayed so far from that the amount of work needed to bring us back is huge.
The PM says he is sorry for the hiccups of housing.flooding and transport problems of recent months and years. But there is also serious problem with our long term direction and the sustainability of many long term policies. We have already lost 5 years of time under PM Lee to fix these problems. We cannot afford to lose another 5 years. Unless voters strongly express the desire for change, it will be business as usual for the PAP. They will trade-off our interests with their other interets - that whole power elite network of GLCs etc to preserve it dominant power and concentrate the benefits of the system on the people at the top. To move the PAP back to the right direction, there is no choice but to have a strong opposition in parliament.